Freeware vs. Free software

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This page originally created by Nabiha A. (2020-21)

There are many different types of software that are available to the public. The 2 types that will be compared here are freeware and free software. It is easy to confuse these terms because they are both a combination of “free” and “software”. However, the word “free” is implied differently in these terms. Free in freeware means no cost, where as free means freedom in free software.


Freeware is a type of software that is free to use for the public, but has some restrictions in regards to how it can be used. There is no cost, no expiration date, limit on the number of times it can be downloaded, a required license, or extra fees. It depends on the software’s developer how much freedom a user can have, some give more freedom and other developers give less. The source code to the software may not be readily available so you can not edit its programming, even then you may not get full access to the program. The software may be designed for a specific purpose, so the software may not be able to run anything outside that purpose. Also, there may be a certain environment where the software can be run. Freeware is usually copyrighted so the user is not able to reuse its code. Freeware is sometimes used to advertise a developer’s commercial software, this may be in the form of a free version with limited features. It can also just be released for educational purposes. This can be in the form of educational softwares for children; today there are many online resources to enhance the learning experience for young children and older teens. A common freeware many people use are Internet browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Other examples of freeware are PC games, Skype, and Adobe Acrobat.

Free Software[edit]

Free software is a type of software with no restrictions in regards to how it can be used by the public, but it may have a price attached to it. In this term, “free” implies freedom. Free softwares may have a price attached to them, but there are no restrictions preventing the user from doing anything with the software’s program or copyright. If the developers release the entire source code, then it’s called open-source software (OSS) or free open-source software (FOSS). This allows users to run the program to do anything and modify the program for improvement. Users can legally redistribute the software or a modified version, but there may be a fee. However, the redistributed version needs to follow copyleft laws for original terms of free use, modification, and distribution. Free software may also be used for commercial use to make profit. For a software to be considered as free software, there are 4 required freedoms the users need to have: the user can run the program for any purpose, edit the program, make more copies to share with others, and improve the software and be able to release that version to the public. Some examples of free software are free office software (ex: Google Docs, Microsoft Office Online, LibreOffice, etc.), free antivirus software (ex: Avast Free Antivirus), and Free Image Editing Software (ex: Canva, Photoshop Express, etc.).


There are ethical considerations that need to be taken when using freeware because the user is more restricted in how they use the software, by copyright laws. It is important to know the restrictions and policies specific to the freeware you are using because they can vary between different types of software, developers, companies, etc. There are also ethical considerations that need to be taken for free software due to copyleft laws, but the user has more freedom in their usage of the software. For free software the basic rule is that the user can do anything with the software, but if they redistribute it, the same permissions need to be granted to the next group of users. The rules stated above for each type of software are only general rules, so it is important to do your research if you want to do something uncommon with the software.